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Military Tattoo


Cult Times Magazine, #27 December 1997

Janeway's right hand man has been lost in space for the last four years; we ask, does he know where he's going?

As a child growing up in Bakersfield, California, Robert Beltran's first love was not acting, but sport, particularly American football. Although he had some fleeting notions of becoming an actor it was not until he began attending university that he thought about seriously pursuing performing as a career. Graduating from California's Fresno State College with a degree in theatre arts, Beltran began working on stage in such productions as La Pastorela, Henry VI and A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was director Paul Bartel who introduced the young actor to the world of films by giving him a role in his cult classic, Eating Raoul. Since then, Beltran has succeeded in showing audiences his diverse range of acting talents in such motion pictures as, Latino, Scenes From The Class Struggle In Beverly Hills, Nixon and Managua.

On the small screen Beltran has guest-starred in such popular series as, Murder, She Wrote, Midnight Caller, Miami Vice and Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, but it is the role of Commander Chakotay in Star Trek: Voyager which has given him worldwide acclaim as well as his first real introduction to the realm of Science Fiction. For Beltran, his initial journey into the Delta Quadrant was an eventful one.

"Actually, the first and second seasons pretty much ran together for me because we didn't have much of a hiatus between the two years. We started off the second season working almost back to back on two big Chakotay episodes, so I was into the job almost immediately," laughs the actor. "I guess the thing that stands out for me so far as the second season goes, is that they wrote some pretty decent episodes for Chakotay."

One second season episode that Beltran is particularly pleased to have worked on is, Resolutions, in which Chakotay and Captain Janeway are left to live out their lives on an uninhabited planet after contracting an alien contagion. The story not only explores different facets of Chakotay's personality, but also plants the seed for a developing romance between the captain and her First Officer.

"When I first read the script it didn't really seem like a Star Trek episode at all, but more like a fragment from a film," Beltran explains. "I enjoy the way it explores the relationship between Chakotay and Janeway. What I really tried to convey in that episode was that Chakotay was resigned to his fate of being alone on the planet with this woman, rather than being overwhelmed by the fact that they were likely going to be alone for the rest of their lives. I think that he has a great love for Janeway, not necessarily in the romantic sense, although I feel that is definitely there, but that he has a tremendous passion for her spirit, mind and character.

"I think the producers trod very carefully so far as coming out and actually making the relationship between the two characters a romantic one. At the same time they also kept a bit of the suspense. So even though Chakotay may show his true colours and feelings towards Janeway, the fact that she doesn't jump at this was very wise. They had Janeway being very reticent and cautious and I think this helped, not hurt, the whole thing. We were able to get out of that episode without having to be stuck with continuing a romantic relationship, while still keeping it open to lots of possibilities."

Also explored at the end of the second season was Chakotay's relationship with his father, Kolopak, played by veteran actor Henry Darrow. The character is first seen by viewers in a series of flashbacks during the episode, Tattoo. Unfortunately, the story's plot does not allow for any interaction between the two characters. However, in the season's cliffhanger Basics, part I, Chakotay calls upon the spirit of his dead father to guide him in making a difficult decision. Beltran enjoyed sitting down and sharing a quiet moment with his on-screen father.

"Working with Henry Darrow is a delight because he's a consummate professional and one hell of an actor," enthuses Beltran. "He brings so much to any character he does, so there's plenty to work off, which is always wonderful. It was great to get out on location for that episode in Lone Pine, California, although it's so boring there - I think they even got rid of the last pine! It's on those types of locations that the company really bonds, so that made it a good time for all of us."

In the third season opener, Basics, part II, Captain Janeway and her crew fight for survial after being marooned on an inhospitable planet by the Kazon. Much to their surprise they are rescued by Tom Paris and a bunch of Talaxians, who re-take Voyager from the Kazon. {Transcriber's note : I seem to remember poor ol' Suder helped some before he died, too!} In the ensuing battle many of the Kazon are killed, as is Chakotay's former lover and Cardassian spy, Seska (Martha Hackett). Was Beltran sorry to see the relationship between the two characters end?

"I was very sorry to see it end because Martha played such a terrific and formidable villainess and was a pleasure to work with. We had fun exploring the relationship between our characters," says the actor. "I really didn't like the way they resolved the whole Seska/Chakotay thing, but I realise that the writers don't have very much time to deal with certain issues."

Chakotay certainly has been through a lot since being brought to the Delta Quadrant against his will. Although the Commander initially had his doubts when his Maquis group joined forces with Captain Janeway's Starfleet crew, the two factions have successfully come together to form an efficient and congenial team. With filming already begun on the fourth season of Voyager, Beltran looks back and reflects on his character's development.

"Well, I think the most important thing is that the writers don't feel it necessary to point out that he's an Indian in every episode. I feel that they do well by the character by making him a man first and eerything else second. That's what I've always hoped that they would do with him and they seem to me to be doing just that. As far as any major developments are concerned, it would have to be in his relationship with Janeway. I think that we have to find out about that and explore it more, so I'm intrigued by that possibility.

"I'd also like to see them develop his sense of humour," continues Beltran. "The few attempts when they have tried to inject some humour into the character have been, to me, misguided. The only time his sense of humour seems to come out is when he's making some sort of 'Indian' remark and I just don't think it works. He is a much more complicated person than that, so I think his sense of humour is the thing that they need to work on the most.

"I believe the series has definitely grown in the writing," he adds. "They're writing better for the characters of the Doctor [Robert Picardo], B'Elanna Torres [Roxann Dawson], Neelix [Ethan Phillips] and Kes [Jennifer Lien], who had a couple of wonderful episodes during the third year. I think they still have yet to find Chakotay, Paris [Robert Duncan McNeill] and Kim [Garrett Wang]. They write very well for specific characters like Talaxians and Klingons, but I feel there are a few of us who are still somewhat interchangeable. I don't think they've really found the voices yet, totally, for every-one. They have with particular ones, but not in general, so I think that they still need to be a lot more specific with Paris, Kim and Chakotay."

When an actor begins working on a film or a television series there are various commitments that accompany the job such as personal appearances, talk shows and other forms of promotion. With a television programme such as Voyager or any of the other popular Star Trek incarnations, an actor's time can be eaten up before he knows it. Beltran tries to maintain a balance between his work schedule, convention appearances and additional responsibilities that are a part of his work on Voyager, as well as with his private life and other professional obligations.

"It's kind of a unique situation in that I'm just starting to learn how to appreciate Science Fiction. Without sounding smug or anything, it never did appeal to me. The reason I'm doing Voyager is that I liked the pilot episode, Caretaker and was intrigued by the Chakotay character. When I started working on the series I became fully aware that not all of the scripts were going to be as interesting and as wonderful. It's an ensemble of nine actors and they have to spread the candy around, so I knew that there were going to be some moments when I wouldn't be doing that much.

"I think that any time you're doing a series you're always afraid that this is the only way that people will see you, or you worry that you're out of the loop for other work and are missing out on things," he explains. "I resigned myself to the fact that, in my mind, I'm with a programme and I'm trying to appreciate it's Science Fiction. I know that we have great writers and I really do admire their work but it's just the genre itself that occasionally bores me a bit.

"What makes it all palatable is that we've got the greatest group of loyal fans. They are very warm, caring and intelligent people. Whenever I'm doing a convention or making personal appearances I constantly remind myself of the fact that these are great people and it's a worthwhile thing that I'm doing, despite the sometimes trying moments on the show."

Although his work on Voyager keeps Beltran busy, the actor has made the time to work on other projects during the show's hiatus. In the gap between filming Seasons Three and Four he directed and starred in a production of Hamlet for the East Los Angeles Theatre Group, of which Beltran is one of the founders. His film work over the past two years includes Oliver Stone's, Nixon, in which he plays Frank Sturgess, and the action/adventure feature, Managua.

"I actually did a lot of research on Frank Sturgess," says Beltran. "He is a very interesting character. I met a man who was one of the Watergate plumbers with him. One of the perks about working with Oliver Stone is getting to meet these very fascinating people. It was a small role, but he asked me if I would do it and it's kind of hard to say no to Olier Stone," he laughs. "Unfortunately, I can't say what it was like working with the man because I hardly had the chance to do so. It was all very quick and I found him to be very focused on his work.

"Managua was another very nice experience. I was working with a first-time director [Michele Taverna] who had a lot of great ideas and who was very personally involved in the story and the whole concept of the production. I played a man who is desperately trying to save his marriage, but is just being pulled in too many different directions. We filmed it in a beautiful little resort town outside of Mexico City, and it was nice to be able to get out of the Chakotay character for a while and to do something else."

Hollywood may be caught up in the world of make-believe but the work that goes into building a career for yourself as an actor is all too real. Having been in the business for over 15 years, Beltran is well aware of the rewards as well as the pitfalls such a job can bring. In the end, however, what remains most important to him is doing the best job he can so as not to disappoint the audience or himself.

"First off, you have to resign yourself to the fact that there are very few actors who get to be in the position of being able to do the types of projects that they want to do. I've been very lucky in that regard. Some actors are offered work that comes out of the blue and are very surprised when something like this happens. It makes you feel good, you know?


"It took me a while to reconcile myself to that fact - that this town and this business is not concerned with art purely for art's sake. It's a business and it's run just like a business. I fought that for a long time, but I didn't understand that it was a losing battle right from the beginning. Things are done quickly in television and sometimes you don't have a lot of time to do your best work. You have to do what is available to you on that day and do it with all your heart and soul. Just remember not to be driven crazy by the fact that it's not always going to be your best work."


Transcribed by Gill Hoyle

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